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Top Chef Contestants and Their Restaurants

I'm a big fan of Top Chef and was wondering how good these chef-testants really are compared to everyone else in the culinary industry. Obviously they are not at the lofty heights as chefs featured in Top Chef Masters but the ones that make it to the finale really do seem talented/have bona fide skills.

I'm wondering how would they rate against chefs/rstaurant owners featured on shows like No Reservations or Iron Chef or in magazines such as Bon Appetite's Best Restaurants issue or Food & Wine's Best Chefs issue?

I haven't been able to dine at any of the restaurants that these chef-testants own or work in and many of them I've never heard of. So for those of you who have had the pleasure (or perhaps misfortune) to visit their establishments, how good was the food?

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  1. I like you had a similar curiosity. I have looked up a lot of the Chef's restaurants and reviews.

    Personally I have eaten only at SeaBlue (Chef Stephen) and Xie Xie (Chef Angelo.)

    Seablue- A Michael Mina Restaurant (I have never been blown away by any meals in his restaurants - Though his Lobster Pot Pie is to die for. My meal there was not bad, not great. Good ingredients wouldn't rush back. Still I expected an Executive Chef from one of his restaurants to bring it more than he has this season. Especially since MM restaurants are so fish based and his fish on the grill challenge failed.

    Xie Xie - I had to be reminded by a friend we had dinned here. Its basically a chic sandwich shop. Which before the reminding I had envisioned his restaurant as some avantgaurd Asian Fusion hybrid. Sandwiches were good I would still go to Witchcraft instead.

    Just as a side note ( I as part of a bet that I lost on last season) took my Girlfriend to Michael Voltaggio's restaurant "The Dinning Room at Langham" and had a meal that is in the top 5 including French Laundry, Robuchon, Garry Danko, and Fleur De Lys (Hubert Keller from Top Chef Masters)

    I think Last year was a little bit stronger not overall but certainly in the Top 4

    1. Me think most of them are still young and relatively inexperienced and need to get out of the spotlight and get their focus back on the restaurant business instead of the "chef star" business.

      anyway, I will probably not eat at one of their restaurants. so my relevance is near zero.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        How old do you think you have to be to be an accomplished chef? I think it's a young persons game. Most of the working chefs, actively cooking in kitchens, I can think of in all the top restaurants in Manhattan are younger than 40 and many are in their 20's.

        1. re: bookhound

          Actually, bookhound, I think if you ran stats, most of the working chefs in Manhattan are NOT under 40. They may be "around" 40, but only SOME are in their 20's. You just hear more about the "wunderkinds" than the others.

          Boulud, Bouley, Nicotra, Batali, Vongerichten, Malouf, Moreira, Barber, Hamilton, Ripert are all over 40 ( for starters).

          1. re: ChefJune

            Most of the people you named aren't working in the kitchens of the restaurants they own. If you check to see who the chef de cuisines are I'll bet my stats are right on.

            Do you really think Boulud or Bouley, Batali, Vongerichten cook in their kitchens on a regular basis? I know Hamilton doesn't or at least she wasn't last year when my friend worked at Prune.

            1. re: bookhound

              Sorry, but the chefs de cuisines are NOT THE chefs of those restaurants. The big names are the ones who are responsible for the food going out each and every night, whether or not they are cooking. And I believe you will find Boulud in his kitchen (probably expediting, but supervising, nonetheless) most evenings when he is in town.

              1. re: ChefJune

                How do these chefs magically appear in all their kitchens at once? Most of them own multiple restaurants.

                1. re: ChefJune

                  According to his website, Boulud has 12 restaurants in 6 cities. In 4 countries. On 3 continents.

                  While celebri-chefs often (though not always) have a role in quality control and menu planning, you give chefs de cuisine far too little credit.

          2. re: Maximilien

            Actually most of them have won pretty relevant non hype awards and have been in the industry under some very respectable chefs so your statement without back up is a little weak.

          3. I've been to the following restaurants when these Top Chef contestants were present. I can't say that the chefs personally have cooked what I ate. But here is my list and my opinions:

            Season 1
            Harold Dieterle -- Perilla -- delicious; solid neighborhood restaurant
            Dave Martin -- Crave -- tasty, but similar to a slightly upscale version of a TGIF or Cheesecake Factory; execution bit sloppy -- eg. no proper sear on meat, things drenched in sweet sauces; after I ate there I understood why Tom Colicchio was surprised that he made it into the Top 3 -- have a feeling that Lee Anne Wong, Stephen Aspirinio and Miguel Morales were more talented (even though I haven't tasted their food)

            Season 2
            Marcel Vigneron -- Bazaar -- excellent, very ambitious food

            Season 3
            Lia Bardeen -- Jean-Georges -- not really my thing with flavor profiles, but execution of everything is perfect; fine dining; one of the top restaurants in NYC; can understand why a lot of the chefs thought that Lia would have gone further in the show

            Season 4
            Mark Simmons -- Public -- good neighborhood restaurant

            Season 5
            Jennifer Carroll -- Le Bernardin -- excellent and really refined seafood restaurant; one of the top fine dining restaurants in NYC; when she was on TC she wasn't at Le Bernardin; but I've probably eaten there when she was working at Le Bernardin

            Season 6
            Angelo Sosa -- Xie Xie -- very good casual sandwich shop; tasty; would be curious to see what he could do with higher end food

            13 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              Given how Angelo was upping himself bigtime and name dropping like crazy on Ep1 of this season, I'm surprised to hear that he only operates a casual sandwich shop. But I'm always on the lookout for good sandwich shops so will have to check it out.

              My husband has been wanting to try Harold's Perilla restaurant so that is definitely on our list, we just haven't done it yet. We've walked past the 24 prince st restaurant where Nikki Cascone (season 4) cooked but never went in - I wasn't impressed when she was on the show, the only thing she ever did was make pasta. and I recently saw that the restaurant had closed.

              1. re: SeoulQueen

                I think Angelo has worked for some big names in the past. These days with the economy the way it is, it seems like more casual burger and sandwich joints are the big thing. I did like Xie Xie, but DH thought it was a bit overpriced. But ingredients were good quality and things were freshly made. I think it's worth checking out.

                And, yes, Perilla is definitely a must-do if you're a TC fan. It does give you perspective of the difference between Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. Perilla was the first TC restaurant I've been to. I was expecting Masters quality (Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, etc.), especially as Dieterle won the title. But it just wasn't at the same level. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed my meals there.

                Nikki also never impressed me on the show. I haven't been to 24 Prince. But I remember reading somewhere that she doesn't even do that much pasta at 24 Prince but was thinking about opening up a pasta restaurant because she's known as the pasta chef! She was definitely advertising her TC connection -- til the day her restaurant closed, the large Top Chef sign was posted outside her restaurant. Show appearances definitely do help a great deal, especially if you make it to the final 7 or so.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  In addition to upscale hamburger and sandwich, there is the upscale pizza trend as well.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud would never actually compete on Top Chef Masters. Chefs like Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Grant Achatz wouldn't either. They command the stature to be judges, not contestants.

                    1. re: hcbk0702

                      Their reputation has more to lose than to gain from such a competition. Though maybe someone could convince the 5 of em to compete against each other in 'Top Chef Culinary Gods.' Even then, i suspect most of em would turn you down just based on how long it's been since they've picked up a knife (maybe Achatz aside).

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        I suspect Ripert could still hold his own. There was an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain went back to Les Halles to see if he could still work the line and he invited Ripert to join him. From what I recall, Ripert was amazing!

                        1. re: chefhound

                          Ripert's technical training is probably the best out of all the prominent US-based chefs:

                          Commis at La Tour d'Argent, when it had 3 Michelin stars and was considered the best in France at executing classic French cuisine
                          Chef Poissoner at Jamin, arguably the greatest restaurant Paris has ever seen, under Joël Robuchon (when he was still a legendary terror in the kitchen)
                          Sous Chef at the Watergate Hotel, under Jean-Louis Palladin
                          Sous Chef at Bouley, when David Bouley was still among the top in NYC

                          That is a crazy résumé for any cook.

                      2. re: hcbk0702

                        <Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud would never actually compete on Top Chef Masters. Chefs like Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Grant Achatz wouldn't either. They command the stature to be judges, not contestants.>

                        It all depends upon the attitude of the chef. Hubert Keller is in the same stratosphere as the above named chefs, and he competed on TCM. So did Rick Bayless.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless are both great chefs, but running Le Bernardin, French Laundry or Alinea is clearly different from running Fleur de Lys or Topolobampo/Frontera Grill.

                          1. re: hcbk0702

                            Fleur de Lys is in the same category as le Bernardin.

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              I'd have to disagree. I think Fleur de Lys is a step down from Le Bernardin.

                              1. re: ChefJune

                                no way is Fleur de Lys in the same category as Le Bernadin. FDL is a great restaurant but le Bernadin is on a whole other level..

                    2. re: Miss Needle

                      Jennifer Carroll was in Season 6, not 5.
                      Angelo Sosa was in Season 7, not 6.
                      You skipped Season 5.

                    3. Keep in mind that there are thousands of great chefs working at thousands of great restaurants that will never be featured by the national media. There are really just too many of them. That doesn't make those restaurants any less "great;" it just means they have not been represented. Upon closer inspection, many of the top chef contestants HAVE been given awards and featured in these magazines.

                      I think as a nation, we're being conditioned to believe that appearances on TV and in the media gives instant credibility and that chefs who aren't "popular" are not as good.

                      -Kevin

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